Driven to Success: IJ Transforms Transportation Markets Nationwide

November 20, 2012

Many of IJ’s first battles for economic liberty were fights for transportation freedom. From opening up taxi markets in Denver, Cincinnati and Indianapolis to taking on Las Vegas’ limousine cartel, we have been on the front lines fighting for transportation entrepreneurs from day one.

We focused on transportation issues for two main reasons. First, businesses like taxi driving are tailor-made for the kind of grassroots entrepreneurship that is at the heart of our economic liberty work; starting a taxi business does not take a lot of start-up capital or formal education. It just takes a practical business sense and an outstanding work ethic. And second, when IJ first opened its doors, transportation regulations in almost every American city were simply terrible. In city after city, it was illegal to start a taxi business. Even in the cities where new taxi businesses were not technically illegal, would-be entrepreneurs faced a thicket of regulations that served no purpose beyond enriching the local established transportation cartel.

Faced with regulations as oppressive and outrageous as these, any IJ lawyer has only one option: Attack!

And so we have, including our ongoing fight to stop the cities of Nashville and Portland, Ore., from banning inexpensive car services by imposing minimum-fare laws that protect expensive limo companies. Meanwhile, we continue to press forward with a challenge to the city of Milwaukee’s 21-year-old prohibition on any new taxi businesses in a case that is directly modeled on the success of one of IJ’s very first economic liberty lawsuits in Denver. And all the while, IJ attorneys have also been hard at work on the legislative front, spearheading a national trend toward opening up taxi markets—most notably in Minneapolis, where the number of licenses has more than doubled since the city abandoned its protectionist taxi laws at IJ’s urging.

Our efforts, of course, do not stop there. We continually look for chances to make the world just a little bit freer for transportation entrepreneurs. Our lawyers are constantly working behind the scenes to advise activists, entrepreneurs and local officials everywhere from Washington, D.C., to Anchorage, Alaska. Most of these situations never find their way to the pages of our newsletter, but we are continually advancing freedom in this area.

And sometimes this pays off in big ways. Take IJ’s most recent transportation client, Colorado’s Mile High Cab. In 2008, as part of the national wave of taxi reform, Colorado passed a law making it much easier for new taxi businesses to enter the market. After the state Public Utilities Commission tried to stifle this reform and rejected Mile High’s application to open a new taxi business, the company found itself with the opportunity to bring the first case testing the new law. The problem? They couldn’t afford a lawyer to take the case up. IJ’s team of transportation experts dove into action and, in November, we argued passionately in defense of the new statute and economic liberty in front of the Colorado Supreme Court. Our vigilance not only made sure the first test case under the new statute did not slip by unnoticed, it also allowed us to bring an economic liberty case to a state supreme court at a small fraction of the cost of our usual litigation.

To be sure, there is a long way to go before we reach true transportation freedom. But IJ is designed to overcome adversity, and when I compare the still-pervasive array of anticompetitive transportation regulations that remain in effect across this country with the team of litigators, experts and activists arrayed on our side, I know which team I’m betting on.

Robert McNamara is an IJ senior attorney.

Subscribe to get Liberty & Law magazine direct to your mailbox!

Sign up to receive IJ's bimonthly magazine, Liberty & Law, along with breaking news updates about the Institute for Justice's fight to protect the rights of all Americans.